Previous | Next

Spring 1990 · Vol. 19 No. 1 · pp. 109–14 

Recommended Reading

The Family Life Cycle and Family Ministry

Ron Penner


Augsburger, David. Sustaining Love: Healing and Growth in the Passages of Marriage. Ventura: Regal, 1988.

A creative book offering help for marriage stresses throughout four stages of marriage.

Blackburn, Bill & Deana. Stress Points in Marriage. Waco: Word, 1986.

A focus on coping with the stresses arising either from unpredictable crises or the normal family life cycle.

Carter, Betty and McGoldrick, Monica (eds). The Changing Family Life Cycle: A Framework for Family Therapy. 2nd ed., New York: Gardner Press, 1988.

Currently the most technical and thorough discussion of the family life cycle.

Guernsey, Dennis. A New Design for Family Ministry. Elgin: D.C. Cook, 1982.

A concept book outlining a theological base for family ministry, the family life cycle, a healthy family system, and possible church-family relationships. Some helpful ideas for leaders of family ministry.

Rickerson, Wayne. Strengthening the Family. Cincinnati: Standard, 1987.

A short, introduction to family ministry planning in the church. {110}


Hershey, Terry. Young Adult Ministry. Loveland: Group, 1986.


Prepare-Enrich. (US: 1-800-331-1661; Canada: 1-403-465-1209)

An excellent marriage preparation inventory. Certification for use available via seminar or self-study package.

Arond, Miriam and Pauker, Samuel. The First Year of Marriage: What to Expect, What to Accept, and What You can Change. Warner, 1987.

Previous | Next

An excellent book; makes a good gift book.


Campbell, Ross. How to Really Love Your Child. Wheaton: Victor, 1977.

Already a classic. A practically written book on parenting.


Campbell, Ross. How to Really Love Your Teenager. Victor, 1981. Active Parenting—(1-800-825-0060 Ext. GK)

A video-augmented study guide for parent groups. Also comes with a supplement for Christian families.


Ambrose, Dub and Mueller, Walt. Ministry to Families with Teenagers. Loveland: Group, 1988.

One of the few books written for youth ministry which also incorporates the perspective of ministry to their families. {111}


Cooke, Shirley. Grown-Up Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Adult Relationships. Denver: Accent, 1987.


Dychtwald, Ken. Age Wave: The Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging America. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1989.

An excellent book outlining the dynamics of aging and the needs of the growing older segment of North American population.

Stafford, Tim. As Our Years Increase—Loving, Preparing: A Guide. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989.

A very creatively written book on the dynamics of growing older.


Johnson, Carolyn. How to Blend a Family. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989.

Wright, Norman. Before You Remarry. Eugene: Harvest, 1988.


Authulet, Emil. Parenting Solo: How to Enjoy Life and Raise Good Kids. Here’s Life, 1989.


“. . . a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). To “leave” and “cleave” are two acknowledged agendas of a newly married couple. Over the past thirty years, observers of the family have noted the particular agendas which are common {112} to families at different stages in their life span, or (to use technical language) the family life cycle. Various frameworks have been constructed over the years, ranging from the two stage “expanding” and “contracting” family to a very elaborate twenty-four stage framework. The most commonly used frameworks today are those created by Duvall, and Carter & McGoldrick. The latest trend is to recognize different types of families. Consequently, we now speak of a family life cycle for the traditional middle-class family, the lower-income family, and the blended family.

Family Life Cycle for the Traditional, Middle-Class Family

The following represents one example of insights found in family life cycle literature. (The material is adapted from Betty Carter & Monica McGoldrick, The Changing Family Life Cycle. 2nd ed., Gardner Press, 1988, 15).

State     Key Task     Secondary Tasks
Leaving home Accepting responsibility
  • Differentiating self from family
  • Developing intimate peer relationships
  • Work & financial independence
Joining of Families via Marriage: The New Couple Formation of a new system
  • Forming marriage system
  • Realigning extended family and friendships
Families with Young Children Accepting newcomer(s)
  • Making space in marriage
  • Adjusting roles and tasks
  • Shift in extended family {113}
Families with Adolescents Flexing to adapt to teens’ independence & adult parents’ needs
  • Shifting parenting style
  • Refocussing marriage and career
  • Joint care of older parents
Launching Children and Moving on Accepting exits and entries to family
  • Adapting to the “two of us”
  • Shift to peer relationships with children
  • Inclusion of in-laws and grandchildren
  • Coping with disability & death of parents
Families in Later Life Accepting shift of roles
  • Adapting to physical decline
  • Supporting central place of middle generation
  • Dealing with loss of key people
  • Life review and integration
  • Preparing for own death

The Family Life Cycle and the Church

Knowledge of the family life cycle can assist planners of family ministry by offering a basic outline of the needs and agendas. For instance, one may have a head start in ministering to families with pre-schoolers by knowing their needs. Stereotyping families according to the common needs and agendas should be avoided. Circumstances may create a unique set of needs in a family unit. For example, a member may have a long term disability or illness, the family may be a {114} recently blended family, or it may be experiencing a major crisis.

A comprehensive family ministry is a church’s investment in helping families move toward a biblically wholesome lifestyle throughout the life span and across possible life crises by:

Specifically, the family life cycle framework can be used to develop a family life cycle directory of families in the church. Such a directory can be a springboard for program planning, targeted publicity, and pointed pastoral care. Moreover, the framework provides a family ministry planning grid. For example, family ministry planners could monitor how families in each stage of the family life cycle are being helped to prepare for the next stage in the cycle, or how each stage is being supported and enriched.

Dr. Ron Penner is Assistant Professor of Christian Education and Youth Ministries at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California.